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What we’re doing this summer: Oobleck

18 Jul
Not your typical summer recipe.

Not your typical summer recipe.

Hello summer, how are you?

I love summer. I love having everyone home, having no specific daily schedule most days, taking some time off, and having much less stress, overall.

It’s not that we’re not busy, it’s just a nicer pace. After the hectic school year, we enjoy the slower pace of the summer. It’s often a balancing act, balancing our work schedules over the summer with family and vacation time, but it works well for us. Since I am self-employed, I only get paid if I work, so I always make sure that I work much harder during the school year so that I can take some time off in the summertime and enjoy my kids while I have them home. I know that those days are fleeting, and the time is going fast.

Sometimes in the summer the kids, like lots of families we know, will make Bucket Lists: things they want to do over the summer. I always remind them that their lists are simply wish lists, things they hope to do, but won’t necessarily get to do. What I like about the lists is it gives us a starting point when we’re looking for fun things to do with them to make their time off more memorable. I have my own mental list of things I’d like to do with them, but I don’t tell them what they are. I like to keep some things unexpected and different.

Orange flavoring added a new element to the science experiment, something I had never thought of before.

Orange flavoring added a new element to the science experiment, something I had never thought of before.

My kids, like many other kids their age, follow a lot of YouTubers. They learn all kinds of life hacks, tricks, hairstyles, DIY projects, STEM ideas, crafts and more by watching these YouTubers. One thing they’d been asking me to do for weeks was to make Oobleck. I’d done Oobleck years ago when I hosted a Family Science Night as a teacher, but I had not done it in years. I remembered the basic premise of it and remembered how cool it was to make, but during the school year the thought of it was too much for me to handle. I told the kids to save it for summertime.

And so, it went onto the Bucket List.

Last week I got the question again, “Can we make Oobleck today?” I finally said yes. The thing about having older kids is that you don’t have to oversee every little project. This “recipe” had just two ingredients: cornstarch and water. As an added twist, the kids had seen that you could add food coloring to make it a unique color, which I’d done before, and flavoring such as mint, vanilla or orange extract for example, to add a scent, which I’d never heard of before. We had a few choices, and they went with orange extract and purple food coloring.

Within minutes we had a lot of cornstarch on the counter, but overall not that much of a mess, thankfully. The kids had done the whole thing themselves, and they were mesmerized looking at and playing with their Oobleck. It was neat to watch it liquify and solidify as they played with it. I managed to wrangle it into zippered closed bags for them so they could do some more observing for a couple more days before it eventually went into the trash. I noticed a purple tint to my wet paper towels and wipes as I wiped up my counter the next few times, but overall, we survived the science experiment unscathed.

It was a fun, easy, relatively quick activity and it was a little bit educational too, different than some of the typical summer activities we do. I liked that this item on their list was something they had found and wanted to learn about and create on their own, rather than something I thought of and carried out for them. And, I liked being able to check one thing off their list. They enjoy making the lists, but they enjoy crossing things off just as much.

For more information about Oobleck, you can do your own search and check out the many available instructions and options, or go here for starters.

Have fun!

Keeping your Oobleck contained and (out of the bedrooms) is key.

Keeping your Oobleck contained and (out of the bedrooms) is key.

Fun Friday: We made it!

19 Jun

Happy Friday to you all!

Each spring I feel like The Little Engine that Could, as we chug along through the end of the school year.

Each spring I feel like The Little Engine that Could, as we chug along through the end of the school year. I think I can, I think I can…

Guess what?

We did it!

We made it to the end of the school year. Today is our second full day of our summer break for three of us, third full day for one of us, and my poor husband has to keep on chugging along through next week until his school district finishes up.

Overall though, we’re in the clear.

As always, it was a tough spring. It always is as we maneuver through the five sets of school schedules, with all our usual stuff popping up on unusual days with concerts, recitals, shows, school exams and the like culminating their final activities all in a short span of time.

Even though this is designed for teachers, the owl on the right is a pretty accurate representation of how I feel by the end of the school year too.

Even though this is designed for teachers, the owl on the right is a pretty accurate representation of how I feel by the end of the school year too.

Each spring, I question whether we’ll make it through, but we always do. There’s not a whole lot of choice in making it through or not, you just have to do the best you can and plow on through, knowing you’ll soon be on the other side of it. Being a parent of three in two schools, a school news reporter in two cities, and a school principal is pretty harrowing this time of year for all five of us, for sure. During the rest of the school year I use one notebook per month on average for my newspaper interviews and coverage. During this time of year I use one per week, sometimes two. It’s that busy, and that’s just me, just my job alone.

Every winter when I do my taxes and flip back through my calendar from the previous year, reviewing my mileage and expenses, I’m shocked that we made it at all, but we do. I equate it to tax season for accountants or the end of the quarter or fiscal year for others in the business world. Just super busy.

And so here it is, the end of the year for just about all of us here, and almost for one of us. We made it, we did it. Our kids are another year wiser from this year’s experiences, another year smarter from all that their teachers have imparted on them, and they’re ready for our own summer experiences.

I know I hinted at it before, but we have one heck of a summer planned out.

More on that next week.

Til then….have a great weekend, and an awesome start to your own summer, whenever that begins. If it’s not over for you yet, it will be soon, and I know you can do it!

It’s Reading Week!

13 Apr
A great book for adults and kids alike, about the love of reading.

A great book for adults and kids alike, about the love of reading.

Hooray! It’s Reading Week!
Actually, it’s Reading Month!! There are so many schools here that spread their Reading Weeks over the month of April, that we celebrate reading all month long.

As an education reporter, I am blessed because I get to hear authors speak, storytellers perform, guest readers read, and my favorite of all: I get to BE a guest reader and read to classrooms all around our city and neighboring cities.

I have the best job ever.

Last I saw Katie Latimer, one of my all-time favorite storytellers, and today, I get to see Len Cabral, a storyteller that Latimer has said inspired her as well. I remember hearing him perform even when I was a child. Additionally, I also got to hear one of my daughter’s favorite authors speak to students last Thursday, Marc Tyler Nobleman, about two non-fiction children’s books he wrote about the true stories behind the creators of Batman and Superman, “The Creators of Superman” and “Bill the Boy Wonder.” Amazing, amazing stuff.

Today I share with you a great book for readers young and old that was given to me last year at a Scholastic celebration of reading by one of the northeast reps for Scholastic, Jacqueline Dodge. The book is called “Open a World of Possible” and it’s essays written by people who are well-known, or not so well-known and they all tell their stories of reading: why they love it, how they learned to read, who inspired their love of reading, and more. It’s a book you can open to almost any page, read a bit, and close it, returning later on to open up to a different page and read some more.

It’s fascinating to read accounts that are similar to your own story, or vastly different. And yet, we all share one thing in common: a love of reading.

As a parent who loves reading, I’ve encouraged the habit in my children as well, taking them to story time at our library from when they were just toddlers. We could get lost in a library or a bookstore. We participate in summer reading challenges, reading week challenges and we have tracked our summer reading just within our own family in the past. It’s a wonderful passion to have and to foster in our kids. As the book above says, reading does in fact open up a whole world of possibilities for our children.

This week I will be sharing with you some books that I’ve been reading for review. I love to read and I don’t post book reviews often enough, but it’s something I’m working hard at this year. This week is the perfect opportunity to share some great books with you, starting right now.

Enjoy your day and pick up a book, even if you only read a page or two!


We interrupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you this important news

6 Mar
I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I think our students have reached their breaking points.

I had planned a different post for today, but when I looked at my blog’s editorial calendar, I decided to switch that post for another day, and share with you some of the stories I have in this week’s newspaper. I’m very proud of my work this week, and I think the three stories tie in so well together, each telling a different piece of the same story, and I also think our story here is not so different from many of my blog readers’ stories all over.

As an education reporter, and as a former educator who lives with three current students and one current educational administrator, I get probably more of my dose of education news and perspective than many. I see educational trends and their impact from all sides. I’m in and out of classrooms from preschool through high school all week long and I sit in on meetings of all kinds both as a parent and as a reporter.

I truly love my job and I love getting to see these many sides to one story as well as to help decipher the education news and share it out to others.

Often however, I notice that many of the people making the decisions about education aren’t teachers, sometimes have never actually even taught in a classroom or run a school and oftentimes have never had children of their own.

I’ve attended forums and heard the guest speakers who have equated knowing what students are going through as students, because they have extended family who have kids, that they know what it’s like in the trenches of the classroom because they have friends who teach.

It’s always struck me as odd, and what they say they’re seeing is completely different from what I know that I’m seeing, hearing and living.

I decided recently that although our kids are the ones who are bearing the brunt of all these educational trends and decisions, it’s rare that we get to hear from them, and oftentimes when I listen to my own kids speaking of their frustrations and experiences, I wonder, “Is it just them? Is it just us?”

It’s not.

I spent the day on February 21 listening to kids talk about school for five hours. It was one of my most favorite interview days ever. I loved meeting the kids I didn’t know previously and I loved hearing their perspectives. I was glad to be able to give them a voice and in turn give a lot of the teachers and administrators a voice as well, because much of what the the teachers and administrators have been saying about the current trends in education are well reflected in the students’ opinions and experiences.

Now clearly, 11 kids does not make a scientific study about education, and I don’t pretend that it does, but it’s enough of a peek into the lives of our students to know that there is much work to be done in the world of education, and I don’t think much more of it can be done by the students.

This week our newspaper published my story, The Voices Behind the Numbers, and the response to it has been outstanding, and a relief to many adults who have wondered the same as we did: Is it just us?

Again, it is not.

Coincidentally, after I’d written and submitted that story, I met with the head of our district’s data team. She’s been in charge of collecting, analyzing and reporting out all kinds of data for quite some time, but recently the big focus has been on chronic absenteeism and trying to determine what types of factors contribute to kids being out so much. A task force was assembled. I am on it representing the faith organizations in our city, but clearly I’m a parent and of course, a reporter, too, so I can give many perspectives in my role. Given the half year’s data explored thus far, the attendance task force has decided that student anxiety needs to be explored in depth, as an important contributing factor in chronic absenteeism, and our state’s department of health is on board to explore this important issue too.

I couldn’t agree more.

You can read that article here, and I do think it ties in well with our students’ perspectives from my own article. I also think that overall in our country there has been an increased concern with mental health, social and emotional wellness, and I think we need to consider that when we think about our students and the impact of the decisions being made when they trickle down to the classrooms.

And finally, I love good news in education, and I love a strong thematic unit that incorporates and encompasses good teaching and still hits all the standards. So often I am disappointed when I ask about some of my favorite classroom units and projects from past years, looking to cover them again in the new year, only to find out that they’ve been cut out of the teaching programs due to lack of time.

This article tells the story of a fabulous program for students that is taught in just one of our city’s 17 elementary schools’ fifth-grade classrooms. The classroom teacher has hung onto it for a decade, firmly believing that it’s an important foundation for his students’ learning, and I couldn’t agree more. I can guarantee you that the standards have been met by the end of this comprehensive math and writing unit, and I know that Mr. Gemma’s students will remember this learning forever and apply it to their real lives after they leave his classroom. I commend him for his continued efforts and congratulate him on this year’s latest success.